SOME OLD JEWELLERS OF NEW ORLEANS (Trade Journal Article - 1890)
Since the days when New Orleans began to receive into her lap the generous yield of that land which is so bounteously watered and enriched by the Mississippi and its tributaries, she has, says Mr. Jno. K. Allen in the 'Jeweller', always demonstrated the wisdom of Bienville which led him to found the city and to counsel the removal to it of the seat of government of the French colony. Her commanding position at the foot of our mightiest river has been maintained through discouragements which would have defeated less hardy pioneers, and-at a cost about which too many may justly complain. Its seat of imperial authority in trade matters in the South, however, has never been resigned to any other city, and, at the present time, her citizens are very hopeful for her future. The fact that New Orleans has been the largest cotton and sugar market and the leading depot in plantation supplies, has drawn to it all the trade of the rich planters of the South, both before the war and since, for all the refinements with which they made their homes attractive and with which their beautiful wives and daughters adorned their persons. Hence the retail jewellery trade and its allied lines have always been important features of New Orleans business.
During a brief visit, made just before Christmas, to that city of sunshine, gardens and flowers, I called upon a few of its many jewellers. The trade preliminary to the holidays was at its full height, and brief interviews were necessary if held at all ; and right here let me say that if Christmas trade all over the country was as good as at New Orleans, the retail jewellers will have little to complain of.
One naturally turns to the beautiful store of A. B. Griswold and Co., at the corner of Canal Street and Rue Royale, as the leading jewellery store in New Orleans. The location is a most excellent one, being under the shadow of the Clay monument, around which all the street cars and other transportation lines centre. Here, with customers several rows deep, I snatched a few words from Mr. Abbott, who has been a long time with the house, and who looks, by the way, much like the late Henry Ward Beecher. This house is, I think, the oldest one in business in Louisiana, having been established in 1817 by Hyde and Goodrich on Chartres Street, then one of the principal streets of that portion of the city now known as the French district. This firm continued in trade until 1856, when the style of the firm became Thomas Griswold and Co. At the close of the war–and let me say the business men of New Orleans who were not ruined by the war were few in number–Thomas Griswold died and the firm became A. B. Griswold and Co. This firm shows a fine line of silverware, bronzes, clocks, watches, gems ,and jewellery, and enjoys a large trade. In the olden times they did about all the business in New Orleans, but now they are pressed very closely by the enterprising house of M. Scooler.
I found Mr. Scooler, the senior member of the firm, in a very happy frame of mind over the Christinas trade which his house was having. He informed me that he established the business in 1842, and had been in business continuously since. He has admitted his son, I. Scooler, and his son-in-law, I. Lowengardt, into business with him, but the style of the firm remains unchanged. Their place of business is at 103 and 105, Canal Street, in the busiest part of that busy street, and in the well arranged show-cases is shown a beautiful stock of diamonds, watches and jewellery. Mr. Scooler informs me that he imports his own bronzes, going abroad annually for that purpose. They carry an extensive line of silverware and clocks, and are sole agents for Patek, Philippe and Co.'s watches.
The lover of the old French quarter of New Orleans will not permit the gay and lively promenaders on Canal Street, or the brilliant stores which line both sides of that wide thoroughfare, to engross his sole attention, but he will turn from Canal into that narrow and badly paved street which the weather-beaten signs at the corners tell you is Rue Royale, and which leads into the very heart of what is still an essentially French district. The overhanging balconies, thronging with a foreign domestic life, the closely battened doors and windows, the open driveways leading into paved and shaded courts with enticing green plants and spray-like fountains, all speak in a language very foreign to our American ears. The traveller who is looking for interesting tilings in the jewellery line will find them here. Little shops presided over by grizzled and moustached Frenchmen, display queer trinkets, old stones taken from dismantled jewellery, old watches undergoing repairs, and other evidences of a trade not well nourished, On the right side of the street, No. 60, your attention will be called to a projecting iron bracket bearing a double dial clock, on the top of which is a bell. Seated on the bell is a representation of a human male figure bearing a hammer with which he strikes the hours. On the wall will be seen another dial, both this and the outside clock being operated by works of a very high character which are visible from the street, a plate of glass set in the wall in the second storey permitting them to be seen. This useful and unique advertisement attracts the stranger's attention to the store of E. Barbier, successor to S. Fournier. Going inside you may lie met, as I was, by a beautiful, dark-eyed French lady who will inform you that Mr.Barbier will be in in a few minutes, and if you sit down to wait for his return you will allow your eyes to wander over a modern and well-kept stock of watches, clocks, diamonds and jewellery. When Mr. Barbier comes in, as he will in a few minutes, you will find him a pleasant gentleman, and possibly the only jeweller in the United States who now owns the business in which he learned his trade. Mr. Fournier came from France and established this business in 1840. In 1853 Mr. Barbier entered as an apprentice, and ultimately succeeded to the business. It is an interesting fact that this house began the manufacture of tower clocks in this country. The Howard and Thomas companies had not begun their manufacture, and such movements as were in the country were imported, This house constructed the first ones made in the United States, and examples of their handiwork are common in New Orleans. The excellent clock in the quaint old cathedral of St Louis is an example of their work, and another is the clock now at the Hospital, but formerly on the Hotel Royale, when it was called the St. Louis Hotel, a beautiful building, possessing more historic interest than any other American hotel.
We now leave the old portion of the city and cross Canal to No. 8, Camp Street, to visit the Nestor of the New Orleans jewellery trade, Mr. H. P. Buckley. Mr. Buckley humorously says, in reply to our query, that he has been in New Orleans about a hundred years, more or less. As he is a hearty and well preserved gentleman, we express some surprise that time has dealt so gently with him, when he replies that it ought to, as he has always been gentle with Time. This delicate allusion to his deftness as a watchmaker is ingeniously made. Mr. Buckley put out his sign in 1853, though he was in New Orleans long before that. He carries a general line of jewellery and watches and reports a satisfactory business. Going back on Canal Street to No. 115, we enter one of A. M. Hill's stores, the other being at 8I and 86, St. Charles Street. Mr. Hill is too busy to talk, but a few well-directed questions elicit the information that he came to New Orleans after the war and cut stencils, repaired gold pens, and did such work until he secured an opening in business, since which time he has built up a large business and acquired a fortune, it is said, of 250,000 dollars. Mr. Hill has a general reputation for keeping " standard time," and this, as every jeweller knows, is a very enviable reputation to possess.
It would not be a fair review of the jewellery trade of the city of New Orleans were we to omit mention of the firm of Leonard Krower and Co., of 31, Chartres Street, the only firm in the South, we are told, which combines manufacturing with jobbing. A call upon these gentlemen showed that the busy season was still with them. We were informed, however, that their business during the year has been a very successful one, and they are obliged constantly to enlarge their facilities. Among the novelties they have brought out was the very successful cotton-bale clock. This firm extends a hearty invitation to all jewellers who may visit New Orleans during the great Sajngerfest to make their headquarters at their very convenient store. My judgment, formed after these interviews with representatives of the business in the South, leads me to state that trade in that section is in a prosperous and promising condition, and I am confident that jobbers will be called on largely to increase their sales in the South in the near future.
Source: The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith - 1st March 1890